Thursday, May 27, 2004

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The rise of the Indian lobby

Joshua Kurlantzick has an interesting essay in The New Republic on the growth of Indian-Americans as a politically influential interest group, to be wooed by Democrats and Republicans alike. [So why is this filed under the outsourcing category?--ed.] Apparently, the Democratic rhetoric on offshoring have hampered their efforts to woo this bloc of voters. The good parts version of the article:

Indian Americans have long had the resources to compete in politics. The nation's wealthiest ethnic group, with a median family income over $60,000, its population doubled between 1990 and 2000, to 1.7 million, and is likely to double again by 2010. They are also among the best-educated groups in the country. Yet only in the past four years has the Indian community become more politically active. The first generation of Indians to come to the U.S., in the 1960s and 1970s, was made up primarily of doctors, engineers, and other science workers--U.S. policies at the time favored immigrants with science skills--and was interested primarily in building families and earning a living. Indeed, before 2000 only four Indian Americans had held office on a state or national level, and only one Indian American had ever been elected to Congress.

But since 2000, all that has begun to change. The war on terror contributed to a rise in hate crimes against brown-skinned and turban-wearing Americans, and that has galvanized many Indian Americans to become more politically involved. The White House's increasing chumminess with Pakistan--the administration recently decided to name Islamabad a "major non-NATO ally"--added to the sense of political urgency among Indian Americans. And most important, the recent furor over information technology offshoring, much of it to India, has sparked fears of a rise in anti-Indian sentiment, further convincing many Indian Americans of the need to organize. In March, Christopher Dumm, executive director of the Indian American Center for Political Awareness, told the Financial Times, "There is fear about a possible backlash that could mean discrimination at work, xenophobic rhetoric, or even violence."....

Democrats already have an advantage, as the Indian-American community, like other Asian-American groups, has traditionally backed liberal positions on immigration and other social issues. To do so, Democrats must first tone down their rhetoric on outsourcing, which has become perhaps the most important issue to many Indian Americans. Unfortunately, John Kerry and others show little sign of abandoning the issue. Shared Lakhanpal, head of the Association of American Physicians of Indian Origin, told Far Eastern Economic Review that many Indian Americans were moving to the GOP because Bush is "not bashing India for outsourcing like Kerry is doing."

All that's left is for Pat Choate -- you know, the 1996 Reform Party candidate for vice president -- to write his follow-up to Agents of Influence, which was about how the Japanese were lobbying to take over the U.S.

posted by Dan on 05.27.04 at 11:08 PM


I think it's quite natural that Indian-Americans gravitate toward the Republican party. Despite the Bush Administration's pro-Pakistan approach, under Powell and Armitage the Administration defused a potential nuclear show-down over the border. While undoubtedly Indian-Americans would want India to defeat Pakistan as it surely would in any conflict, they also probably would prefer to avoid in the first place a conflict that sent nuclear warheads screaming toward their relatives in Bombay, etc.

In addition as the article points out the average Indian income is pretty high. This alone would prejudice them toward the Republican party's taxation policies. In addition, while Democrats are for immigration in general typically they're against H1-B visa expansions for highly trained technical workers - the precise sort of immigration that many Indians immigrating here would likely fall under.

Personally I don't think there's any amount of rhetoric the Democrats could scale down to that would win over the Indian-American lobby. They seem a natural shoe-in for the Republican party.

Hence I question your analysis Dr Drezner! I think the Democrats are quietly writing off the Indian-American political lobby simply because they know the Republicans have the advantage on issues, and therefore really aren't sacrificing that much. It's only if Democrats had Indians wanting to come to them and were alienating them that I think your analysis would be right!

posted by: Oldman on 05.27.04 at 11:08 PM [permalink]

“I think the Democrats are quietly writing off the Indian-American political lobby simply because they know the Republicans have the advantage on issues, and therefore really aren't sacrificing that much.”

I agree completely. John Kerry’s people are more than willing to ignore the Indian vote to focus on those voters Ruy Teixeira and Joel Rogers wrote about in their “Why the White Working Class Still Matters: America’s Forgotten Majority.” Joshua Kurlantzick failed to mention why “Bobby Jindal barely lost the governor's race in Louisiana.” He lost solely because his Democrat opponent scared lower income voters into believing that they were going to lose their jobs because of free trade. The same phenomenon occurred when Mary Landrieu captured her U.S. Senate seat.

I’ve been saying for months that Bill Clinton would be considered too conservative to win this year’s presidential nomination. The anti-free traders are in firm control. Brad DeLong and other Democrat pro-free traders have been unofficially excommunicated from the Democrat Party. It is only their blind contempt for the Bush administration which blinds them to this harsh reality. John Kerry will occasionally throw a rhetorical bone to these folks---but he realizes that his majority supporters are the members of the anti-free trade crowd.

posted by: David Thomson on 05.27.04 at 11:08 PM [permalink]

Well, this Indian American has a thought or two (which may be complete cr*p, but commenting is free, right? You get what you pay for).

I think that you have to distinguish between those that have emigrated to this country at a later age in life and the so-called ABCD's (American born confused desi's - slang for kids of Indian parents who were born or raised in the states. This slang term has a testy history and not everyone likes it, but I won't go into it here). The original group that migrated in the late sixties felt most comfortable with the Democratic party because they felt a bit vulnerable as a minority. They thought their interests would be better protected by the Democrats. The younger generation is, for obvious reasons, more comfortable with their place in American society and so other factors beside ethnic identity become important. An oversimplification, I know, but I've heard this theme a fair number of times of my 'desi' pals.

posted by: MD on 05.27.04 at 11:08 PM [permalink]

Oh, and I forgot to add that any candidate that is perceived as being 'anti-India' (economically or in foreign policy matters) may also be perceived as being 'anti-Indian/Indian American' which probably won't get many votes.

posted by: MD on 05.27.04 at 11:08 PM [permalink]

Although I'm a Democrat, I agree that there is no reason to assume that Indian voters will automatically go Democratic. Although Democrats like to pretend that the Republicans are just a bunch of white racists stuck in the 1950s, this isn't really a fair characterization and the Democrats are deluding themselves if they think they can take these votes for granted. They can't just assume that Indian voters will vote the waya other immigrant groups did over the years, i.e., Jews and other immigrant groups vote Democratic against that financial interests because they think Republicans are hostile to them. Even the Jewish vote is starting to become somewhat more up for grabs because of liberal hostility to Israel.

However, I don't think the Dems are consciously writing off the Indian vote. Instead, I think the Democrats are caught between a rock and a hard place. The liberal base of the party is solidly "populist" and anti-free trade and has little use for moderates like me who favor free trade (with some reservations). On the other hand, these moderates include a lot of the social liberals that the Democrats need to win the election. Based on what I read in some of the liberal Democratic blogs, I'm not sure the Democrats can really square the circle. Of course, with the nomination secured, Kerry could presumably make a bid for the Indian vote, but he is probably worried that not bashing free trade will cost him votes (who probably won't turn out) in swing states.

posted by: MWS on 05.27.04 at 11:08 PM [permalink]

> The anti-free traders are in firm control [of the Democratic Party].

How's the steel industry doing?

posted by: goethean on 05.27.04 at 11:08 PM [permalink]

“> The anti-free traders are in firm control [of the Democratic Party].

How's the steel industry doing?”

President Bush has lifted his stupid trade restrictions on steel. He deserves to be scorned on this issue. Still, one must choose between the current president and Senator Kerry in November. The lesser of evils is definitely George W. Bush.

posted by: David Thomson on 05.27.04 at 11:08 PM [permalink]

Here's to the Indians.
Rabid anti-islamist
Large (read: deployable) Army, with an english tradition.
And, most importantly, they're working hard at a power-projection navy.

Their being lept at arm's length was always one of the great (unspoken) tradgedies of the Cold War.

posted by: Art Wellesley on 05.27.04 at 11:08 PM [permalink]

If the Republicans attract people like Dan Burton, Dan Rohrabacher (and David Duke!), then Indian-Americans will be loathe to associate with them. Colin Powell and Armitage seem to love any and all Islamic dictators and tyrants. However, the Democrats seem to have cast their lot with Arundhati Roy, Chomsky and are against even frowing at the Islamists. Rock. Hard place. But this dilemma is probably a good thing.

The economic lessons of the past decades have shown that Reagan and Thatcher were right and JFK (who sent JK Galbraith to India) and Nehru were wrong. So hopefully desis will migrate towards the pro free trade factions within the parties. I think it would be a bad idea for Indian-Americans to become a solid bloc for one party or the other. If they become so, they lose leverage. The smarter corporations and interest groups lobby both parties. Indian Americans should too.

posted by: JM on 05.27.04 at 11:08 PM [permalink]

Dan Rohrabacher = Dana Rohrabacher
frowing at the Islamists = frowning at the Islamists

posted by: JM on 05.27.04 at 11:08 PM [permalink]

As an Indian in the US, and from what I know of 'desi's around me, I can safely vouch that on most social issues we desis find ourselves on the liberal/democratic side of the spectrum - from abortion and gay rights universal healthcare and gun control. But on issues like trade policy, int'l rekations, internal security and national defence, we are mostly right-of-centre. Having seem at close range what islamofascism is all about, we support stern security measures and thats one good thing about the - they're less apologetic than the dems when it comes to doing what they think is right.

posted by: sudhir on 05.27.04 at 11:08 PM [permalink]

Another Desi chiming in with some blather. I find most Desis and ABCD's to be rather liberal on social issues - heck soem of the very active Democratic underground, and types are 2nd Generation ABCDs. However a lot of first generation immigrants, like me, have experienced the realities of extremist Islam, and are more inclined to support action against the threat of Islamic fundamentalism worldwide. However, i would disagree with Sudhir-bhai - on one point - my experience is that most Indians are not very liberal when it comes to dealing with social mores either. In academic situations, they might pretend to be pro-gay/lesbian rights, or pro-abortion to not rock the boat, but, if you scratch below the surface, there is another story
And given the predisposition to see islamic fundamentalism as an enemy that needs to be dealt with, combined with a some what conservative social stance, it is no wonder that a lot of Indians in the uSA are closet-republicans.

posted by: ronin on 05.27.04 at 11:08 PM [permalink]

Also wanted to add, despite Sudhir-bhai's assertion, not all Desis are pro gun-control. A lot of Indians here in the midwest have taken to hunting, and the shooting sports. When I was growing up in India, I remember my parents and members of my extended family control bitterly about the very strict, and oppressive gun control laws in effect in our state - we saw it as an effort by the central Govt and the state Govt politicos, lackeys of the Congress party in Delhi to keep us oppressed, and as a sign that the Govt did not trust its own citizens.

posted by: ronin on 05.27.04 at 11:08 PM [permalink]

Indians came, took American jobs that could have been done by Americans, and prospered.

Now, greatful for the opportunity and prosperity the USA provided them, they want to give back. By sending millions of American jobs to the country they ran from.

As usual the traitorous establishment just loves it. Both parties will fight hard for the privilege to have yet another fifth column on their side.

A question for PolSci specialists: Why India that votes against US in UN as often as China is considered a friend?

posted by: RedWhite&Blue on 05.27.04 at 11:08 PM [permalink]

As another Indian American, I think that first generation Indian Americans do tend to trend Democratic. Part of it is simply that many do tend to settle in states with a strong democratic party machine such as CA, NY, NJ or Illinois. Also, mot all recent Indian Americans are as affluent as the first generationers.

Re: the outsourcing issue -- most Indians who are US citizens will probably not hold views that are that different from the average US citizen. They are as vulnerable to any proposed outsourcing as anyone else and as long as an outsourcing agenda does not become an anti-Indian agenda, they would probably not hold a strong opinion on it (exception -- people who actually run such businesses, but there are only a few of those).

As far as foreign policy goes, Clinton was hugely popular in India. Far more than the current administration. He helped to stop the Kargil war.

When it comes to economic matters, Indians tend to be right of center (in particular, the idea of welfare for able-bodied people). Indians are socially somewhat conservative as well. On the other hand, the strong Christian right worries most Indian Americans. Similarly, the RedWhite&Blue style nutcase above. Almost all Indian Americans I talk to also think that the IRaq war was a complete disaster and have strong reservations about the idea of America invading a country that could present a threat (what, one asked me, would stop the US from attacking India in the future).

Speaking for myself, I dislike the local (NJ) democratic machine, and consider myself a fiscal conservative, but I will vote for Kerry to ensure this inept foreign policy government gets thrown out.

posted by: Raman on 05.27.04 at 11:08 PM [permalink]

'In addition, while Democrats are for immigration in general typically they're against H1-B visa expansions for highly trained technical workers - the precise sort of immigration that many Indians immigrating here would likely fall under'

Er, no. Indians immigrating here are not likely to vote until they become immigrants, at which point they sometimes become partisans of the evil of H-1bs :-) Most do want family immigration.

Also, I think its simplisitic to assume that Indians are "anti-Islamic". A large portion of India's population is Islamic, and there are other groups such as Sikhs as well. While most Indians would typically support strong anti-terrorist measures, they also know that they can easily be identified as Islamic (especially Sikhs) even if not --- so they would be very vary of profiling-style suggestions.

As far as gun control goes, I think for first generationers Ronin is definitely unusual here. People might want to buy guns for hunting, personal protection etc. in the US, but certainly the notion that guns in India could be used to protect against the Indian Central Government would strike most people as somewhere between idiotic and treasonous (and thus best left to Islamic radicals, Maoists, dacoits and mafia members).

posted by: Manu_Sr on 05.27.04 at 11:08 PM [permalink]

Raman writes:

"Indians tend to be right of center (in particular, the idea of welfare for able-bodied people)."

I guess welfare is bad idea if it for Americans, but a good idea if Indians on receiving end. Welfare offices in any place with large immigrant population is full of Indians (and Pakis and Iranians and Arabs and Chinese and ...).

Never seen any elderly Indian person receiving welfare while have never worked in the USA express any calms about it.

Once again question to you, political pundits; Why a country that as hostile to the USA as China is considered a friend?

What kind of insanity that is?

posted by: RedWhite&Blue on 05.27.04 at 11:08 PM [permalink]

And there you have it perfectly folks -- a great reason for Indian Americans such as myself to vote Repub is the troglodytes such as Really Wholly Bogus. Yes, they are found in the fringes of both parties, but far more in the fringes of the Repub party.

tens of thousands of dollars in tax cuts do not compensate in my mind for supporting the party that can often chauvinistic and nativistic. So its, Democratic for me.

posted by: Mfernan on 05.27.04 at 11:08 PM [permalink]

RedWhite&Blue, I will, at the outset, assume that you are not a troll and will try to give a non-facetious answer. You asked,
"Once again question to you, political pundits; Why a country that as hostile to the USA as China is considered a friend?"

Though not a pundit, here are my explanations for the schizophrenic attitude from the Indian side.
1. Britain left some poison pills in India when leaving. The obvious one of course, was encouraging jihadism and then partitioning India on religious lines. The less obvious one was the effect of the LSE and its socialists on India. Nehru and gang, as well as the World Bank and pretty much everyone else exhorted central planning and a socialist outlook for Indian policy and hence influenced the political outlook of Indian leaders. Guess what kind of attitude socialists have about the US?

2. US "tilted" towards Pakistan when it was in the midst of a genocide of 2.5 million Hindus in Bangladesh in 1971. India reacted by signing a defence pact with the USSR, and went to war with Pakistan. The US sent a carrier battle group near Indian waters to rattle the cage. Guess what kind of attitude Indians will have against the US after this?

3. Nixon made nice with Mao and supported Red China. By doing so, the US supported both of India's enemies who had waged war against her.

But, the US govt's behavior towards its own citizens is exemplary and is something Indians look up to.

What are the reasons for US hostility towards India and military and political support towards its enemies?

As for outsourcing, it is primarily an economic matter and is the result of trade between private companies, not as a result of government action or policy.

posted by: JM on 05.27.04 at 11:08 PM [permalink]

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